It’s the skincare question that draws strong opposing views from dermatologists and facialists. We asked four skincare experts for their views in order to get to the bottom of it

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Oils - they’re the Marmite of the skincare world. Some shun them and some embrace them, but there’s one issue that has led to particularly animated debate among experts - whether or not they’re good or bad for blemish-prone skin.

We asked four skincare experts - cosmetic dermatologist Dr Stefanie Williams , facialist Abigail James , Megan Felton, co-founder of skincare consultancy Lion/ne  and facialist Sarah Chapman  - for their views on four of the most commonly asked questions. Read on to see what they agreed and disagreed on.

1. Are certain facial oils good for blemish-prone skin?

No: Dr Stefanie Williams

Dr Williams is firmly against their use. They’re actually the cause of many of the skin problems that she sees in her clinic. “We often get patients who have used facial oils at home that have triggered acne  or rosacea  breakouts,” she tells me. “For anybody with a tendency for breakouts, I strictly advise against using facial oils of any sort, as they clog up pores and congest the skin, aggravating flare-ups (even if the company swears that they don’t…).”

She adds, “This is also true for tea tree oil (which is often even marketing for acne – crazy!) which may have mild anti-inflammatory effects, but its pore-clogging properties in my professional experience, greatly outweigh its mild anti-inflammatory benefits.”

Yes: Abigail James

Not all oils are bad in her experience. “The skin needs some oil. If we keep over stripping the skin, it can become dry, tight, and sensitive,” she explains. “Some natural plant oils have inbuilt antibacterial, anti-inflammatory benefits and some are close to our own natural sebum.” These lighter oils are less likely to overload skin and trigger breakouts. Examples include jojoba, hemp, starflower, milk thistle, evening primrose, and grapeseed.

She recommends avoiding heavy ones such as coconut, olive, wheatgerm, and avocado, as well as mineral oils. “These are petrochemicals that feel lovely but leave a film on the surface of the skin and will only block pores,” she says.

Yes: Sarah Chapman

Like Abigail, Sarah differentiates between light and heavy types of oils. “Heavy oils such as sweet almond can clog the skin, so they are best avoided. Look for products containing oils such as melon oil, which is really lightweight and jojoba, which is the closest to your natural sebum.” Omega oils are also a valuable addition to your artillery in her experience for protecting cell membranes, keeping them supple and permeable. They’re also anti-inflammatory and can help with sensitivity too, she says.

Yes: Megan Felton

It’s a yes, but only for those who have very dry skin too. “Seed oils can be a great option to deeply hydrate the skin,” she says. “Their fatty acids and antioxidants can help the barrier function of our skin, which guards us against all of the irritants we come in contact with throughout the day.”

As for oils to avoid, she puts essential oils such as tea tree oil, rosemary oil and lemongrass oil on the ‘avoid’ list. “Although they do have beneficial properties - anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antioxidant - they also can irritate the skin and for blemish-prone skin, this is not what you need. Even when this irritation may not appear in the short-term on the surface, it can cause damage beneath the skin that will cause sensitisation as you age.”

MORE GLOSS: How this doctor treats winter redness and rosacea

2. Can oils make oily skin less oily?

No: Dr Stefanie Williams

This is a myth in Dr Williams’ experience. “This doesn’t make any sense in my professional opinion as a dermatologist. It’s just not needed as the skin produces enough oil on its own. Why would you add more?” It could be doing more harm than good. “I see victims of the facial-oil-is-good-for-breakouts school of thought in clinic every single week, many of them with permanently scarred skin.”

Yes: Sarah Chapman

Certain oils can help balance oil production in Sarah’s experience because like attracts like. “Our skin produces its own natural oil - sebum - so any oil applied to the skin can be easily absorbed through the oil pathways in the skin,” she explains. “When combined with your natural oils, this helps to draw out impurities more efficiently, working in harmony with your skin.” Stripping the skin of its natural oils will only encourage the sebaceous glands to produce more oil to compensate, she says.

Yes: Abigail James

Abigail is also of the opinion that over-stripping the skin can result in the overproduction of sebum which can make breakouts worse. Using certain kinds of oils can help regulate that though. “If you apply the tiniest amount of a lightweight natural oil after your cleanse and serum in the evening, it can help the skin to rebalance,” she says. It has to be the right kind of oil though, she cautions - the lighter ones mentioned earlier or safflower or rosehip seed. “Steer clear of anything synthetically fragranced as it can be an irritant.” Avoid heavy ones. “I’ve seen from experience with clients that when they go totally oil-free to try and combat acne, it never has the desired effect, and they always end up having to add in some nourishment, no matter how small from an oil or balm.”

Her favourite oils are  Dr Hauschka Clarifying Day Oil , £15.95, Trilogy Certified Organic Rosehip Oil , £13.07, and Votary Clarifying Facial Oil , £65.

No: Megan Felton

Oils and oily skin don’t mix in Megan’s opinion, with the exception of an oil cleanser for a double cleanse  when heavy makeup is worn. And even then, it’s not always necessary.

MORE GLOSS: Double cleansing - should you be doing it?

3. Can they help if your skin’s dry and blemish-prone?

No: Dr Stefanie Williams

If you have dry skin, face oils will cause you the least amount of problems (although your breakouts will very likely get worse). Oils do nothing but stick down and compress dead stratum corneum cells and prevent them from naturally shedding off, says Dr Williams. “I have seen it many times in clinic – the dreaded ‘facial oil face’ (people keep applying facial oils to give the skin a bit of a glow, but underneath the skin gets duller and duller…).” There are much more sophisticated ways to deeply hydrate your skin, and the clogging nature of facial oils will only worsen your breakouts.

Seeing a dermatologist to get a tailor-made plan for addressing your breakouts is her top tip. In the meantime, try incorporating hyaluronic acid serums  with added gentle exfoliants in them (such as Skinceuticals Retexturing Activator , £90, which can help add hydration without clogging pores and aggravating breakouts) and lightweight anti-inflammatory moisturisers with polyhydroxy acids  such as NeoStrata Redness Neutralising Serum , £39.99. “Adding a bovine collagen supplement such as Dermacoll , (but double the daily dose to 10g collagen per day) can hydrate the skin from within, without having to plaster thick moisturiser on.”

Yes: Abigail James

It’s a yes from Abigail, as long as the lighter oils that she mentioned earlier (such as safflower, rosehip seed, and starflower) are your oil of choice. They can provide balance to dry skin types much in the same way that they can bring balance to oily skin types.

Yes: Megan Felton

Seed oils that are non-fragrant, antioxidant-rich and full of fatty acids could be of some benefit. Examples include rosehip oil, jojoba oil, primrose oil, hemp seed oil, borage seed oil, and chia seed oil. Her advice is to look for products with a ‘soothing’ focus, ones that work to strengthen barrier function rather than “help to eliminate your blemishes.” Her top picks include: By Sarah Organic Face Oil , £33,  Trilogy Rosehip Oil , £13.07,  Paula’s Choice Moisture Renewal Oil Booster , £35, and The Inkey List Rosehip Oil , £6.99.

4. Are they the best long-term treatment for blemish-prone skin?

No: Dr Stefanie Williams

There are much more effective options out there for tackling blemishes, says Dr Williams. “My strong advice is to see a dermatologist to treat the breakouts with highly effective, well-tolerated prescription creams. A good dermatologist will also put together a tailored, written skincare regime for you.”

No: Sarah Chapman

While oils can form part of the puzzle, they aren’t a miracle cure in themselves. For her, it’s all about cleansing, chemical exfoliation by way of face-friendly acids like glycolic acid or lactic acid, and skincare products that help strengthen the skin barrier. “Additionally, wearing less makeup each day will reduce blockages in the pores to keep skin clear, and keeping your hands away from your face during the day will prevent the spread of blemish-causing bacteria.”

No: Abigail James

Similarly, Abigail is of the belief that while all oils aren’t to be villainised, they should only be regarded as part of the solution.

No: Megan Felton

For Megan, there are other options out there that have a better chance of keeping breakouts at bay in both the short and long-term. “Remember also that just because oils are more ‘natural’, that does not always mean safer. There is less regulation around natural products than cosmeceutical products.”

One of her top blemish-busting picks is the use of PHAs  (polyhydroxy acids) such as gluconolactone and lactobionic acids which are gentler versions of AHAs such as glycolic acid. “They are safe for ALL (yes I really mean all) skin types, including breakout-prone skin,” she says. Another recommendation is BHAs (beta hydroxy acids) if your skin’s oily, such as salicylic acid, salicylate, sodium salicylate, willow extract, beta hydroxybutanoic acid, tropic acid, or trethocanic acid. “Unlike AHAs and PHAs, they actually go into the pore and clean it out,” she says.

She also recommends benzoyl peroxide for more persistent breakouts (in moderation because it can cause dryness and redness).

The bottom line

While it seems that not every type of oil is a no-go, the experts that we asked are in agreement that there are better skincare options out there for tackling your blemishes. “The most important thing for each individual is finding out what works for them,” says Sarah. “Start by seeking advice from your facialist or dermatologist and see how your skin reacts. No one’s skin is the same and we all react differently to different ingredients – there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to skincare.”

What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below.

Read more: Exfoliating acids, explained.